Interview With Amanuensis
None of us were sure what to expect when Amanuensis agreed to be interviewed. Thisbrilliant writer of dark erotica chose Professor Snape's quarters to beinterviewed in and frankly I was more than a bit nervous. I mean who knew whatwe would find in Snape's living space at the castle. Would there be a casketperhaps if the rumors of him being a Vampire were true? Would there be whips,shackles, chains, and other implements of both pleasure and pain?
We descendedinto the dungeons at Hogwarts and I expressed my concerns to both Simon'sFlower and Madam Minnie. Madam Minnie stopped dead in her tracks and grabbed myarm.
"Could itbe true?" She rubbed her hands together. "Oh please let all of thosethings be there…And Floggers…he must have a flogger somewhere!"
We gaped ather for a moment and followed her as she ran down the final set of steps. Iexchanged a look with Simon's Flower and we both shook our heads knowing MadamMinnie was going to be difficult to control.
The door toSnape's quarters swung open and a feminine voice called out, "Enter."
I swallowedhard followed Simon's Flower and Madam Minnie into the Half Blood Prince'sboudoir.
Amanuensis waswaiting for us, sitting on a stool in the middle of a room lit only by candles,and she smiled in welcome. We introduced ourselves and held on tightly to MadamMinnie's arms so that we could keep her from hunting out Professor Snape'sbedroom.
"Amanuensis,"I grinned. "It's truly a pleasure to meet you. Your stories are darklyerotic and Droit Du Seigneur has the perfect evil Lucius in it.
"I enjoywriting Lucius…he's so delightfully evil," she gave us a mischievoussmile. "So I can sense Madam Minnie would like a tour of Snape'sbedroom?"
Madam Minnienodded enthusiastically and Amanuensis smiled wickedly.
"I'mafraid it's occupied right now but perhaps if you behave I will grant youpermission to enter."
I swear I sawMadam Minnie blink back tears as she nodded, "Amanuesis can you describeyourself in three words?"
"Who, me?Oh." She laughed again and we joined in.
We allowedMadam Minnie to walk about the room and I saw her caressing one of ProfessorSnape's potion bottles.
"I knowwe ask this question a lot," I began. "We're really curiousthough—Which Harry Potter book is your favorite?"
"DefinitelyOrder of the Phoenix," she responded immediately. "I loved howprogressively darker the books got up to OotP, and OotP was not only one darkbook, it felt to be the book that really developed Harry, not just thecharacters around him."
"Can youexplain what you mean by that?" Simon's Flower asked. "I mean I agreebut I'm interested in another person's take on the book."
"Harrybegan the book in a state of agitation and nightmares, after Cedric's death,and he lived in that environment through the entire year," Amanuensisbegan. "His deepening friendship with Sirius, plus his discovery about hisfather, created a Harry that sucked me in, every word. The death of Siriuskilled me. Harry's rage over that and his fight to make sense of it, to find away around it just ate me up."
Madam Minnieand I both nodded our heads in agreement.
"Annieand I both enjoyed The Half Blood Prince," Simon's Flower continued."What were your views on that?"
"I feltHalf Blood Prince regressed a little—though still a dark book, it's morefocused on plot than on character development. There's a huge amount ofexposition in Book Six, with Harry reduced to an observer, and somehow we lostthat angry, grieving Harry. I missed that Harry."
Madam Minniesnagged a set of Professor Snape's robes and lifted them to her nose. Sheinhaled deeply and I rolled my eyes.
"Whichcharacter is your favorite?" Madam Minnie asked as she wrapped the robesaround herself.
"Harry,"Amanuensis replied. "I usually identify with the protagonist in a story; Ithink it's my "I am the hero of my own story" attitude," shepaused before continuing. "If I don't live my own life as if it were so,who else will do it for me."
I sat leanedagainst the cold stone wall and asked the question I was very interested in asI had been having terrible writer's block.
"When youwrite do you have any tried and true tricks that you use to tempt yourmuse?"
Amanuensisnodded enthusiastically, "I write a lot of smut—I sort of think thatit's what I'm known for—and I can't write smut or romance that doesn'twork for me," she paused. "If it doesn't make my own personallust-o-meter zing, then I can't write it or I have to change it."
"Lust-o-meter,"I grinned. "I like that term! I agree completely."
"When Ihave a deadline," Amanuensis said thoughtfully. "And I have to writethe non-smutty bits, sitting down and WRITING is sometimes all there is. It'sbrute force but it works." She paused. "Sometimes I will deliberatelyleave things until the last minute because I am more productive that way. Whena deadline is there, I can write more in four hours on the day before than Ican in twenty spread out over a week, when the deadline is not sopressing."
"I'm likethat too," Simon's Flower said softly. "Sometimes I wait until thelast minute and sometimes it's some of the best work I put out!"
Madam Minnieand I quickly agreed and Amanuensis smiled.
"If Ican, I prefer to write only when 'the frenzy' hits. But the frenzy is fickleand can't be wooed; it comes when it wants. It might only come once a year andlast the length of one story; I had the pleasure of being in 'the frenzy' foralmost five months when Harry Potter Fanfiction first came to inspire me."
"Can youdescribe 'the freny' for us," I asked and pulled a smoke out to light it.Madam Minnie promptly took it from my hand and stomped it out. I glared at herbefore Amanuensis continued.
"Thefrenzy is the feeling when you're not so much writing as channeling; the ideasseem to form in your head full-fleshed and you're just writing as fast as youcan to get them all down in text. It's as if the characters are dictating toyou and all you are doing is writing down what they say and do as they tellyou, 'And then I'd say this, and then I'd do that.' There is no feeling equalto it.
"It'salmost like you become the character," I said. "I get that way when Iwrite Ron."
"Also,"Amanuensis continued. "I have to write linearly. I've tried skipping aboutand writing out of order and it just doesn't work for me."
"See, Ican write like that," Madam Minnie said as she put on a pair of ProfessorSnape's shoes.
"I end upwith bits that don't connect," Amanuensis responded. "They have to bethrown out, that bits sounded funny but turned out not to fit because when Iactually got to that scene the tone was too somber for the funny to work,"she shrugged. "I also happen to find that the writing goes likestorytelling—I have to find out what happened in each scene before I canfind our what happened in the next, see, too see if it follows the way Ithought it would."
"I workfrom an outline but I totally agree with you," I replied. "I can'twrite out of order either. It seems to me that the story flows morenaturally." Out of the corner of my eye I saw Madam Minnie trying to sticka pair of Professor Snape's grey boxers into her purse. "Madam Minnie,no!"
She droppedthe material and Simon's Flower drug her over to stand next to us. Madam Minniejust shared a smile with Amanuensis and shrugged.
"Who areyour favorite authors?" Madam Minnie pulled Professor Snape's robestighter around her. "All three of us are avid readers and we're alwaysinterested in what others are reading."
"The listis vast," Amanuensis said. "I like SF and Fantasy primarily. Off thetop of my head: Tanith Lee, Harlan Ellison, Lois McMaster, Bujold, Neil Gaiman,Sharon Shinn, Alan Moore, Anne Rice," she took a deep breath beforecontinuing. "Orson Scott Card, Matt Wagner, Aran Ashe, Sheri Tepper, C.S.Friedman, and Eva Ibbotson."
"AnneRice is one of my favorites too," Madam Minnie said. "I'm totallyaddicted to her Vampire LeStat."
"I'm alsoa Shakespeare buff," Amanuensis said. "But Shakespeare shouldn't beread, it should be watched."
"Iagree," Simon's Flower said. "I noticed J.K. Rowling wasn't on thatlist."
"She's ina separate category," Amanuensis said. "Authors who have written oneor two books, or single series that turned my head get their own speciallist."
"Who arethose authors?" Simon's Flower asked and her quill flew against hernotebook as Amanuensis responded.
"J.R.R.Tolkien, Jaqueline Carey, Phillip Pullman, Anne Bishop, Dianae Gabaldon,"she gasped for air and continued. "George R.R. Martin, Diane Duane, BarryHughart, Suzette Haden Elgin, Douglas Adams, Sylvia Louise Engdahl, JuddWink," She grinned. "And of course J.K. Rowling." She held upher hand. "The author whose style I think of as my old gold standard isRay Bradbury. Not necessarily my very favorite author, but one of them, and oh,such a clean style he has—you read every word of his, never wanting toskip any boring bits, and his language is simple though there will still bebeautiful sudden twist of metaphor here and there that will grip you."
"Howabout in fandom?" I asked. "I'm curious because we have such anextensive list of favorites."
"Infandom," Amanuensis sighed. "I can't possible narrow it down. Go tothe recommendation page on my websiteand you'll get a taste for the fanfiction authors whose stories have made ahuge impression on me."
"Whatkind of environment do you write best in?" Madam Minnie asked as she ranher hand over the back of Professor Snape's sofa.
"To writeI do best in a solitary environment with unobtrusive music that's very familiarto me," Amanuensis answered seriously. "The radio won't do it;television or DVDs won't do it. Too distracting."
"Yes,"I laughed. "We call it the shiny. What kind of music works for you?"
"Themusic has to be something instrumental or folky (I really like Celtic music) asa rule. I can write if there are other people and noise and such around if I'mallowed to tune everything out—but then as soon as someone asked me aquestion I'll all but fly off the handle. "What! I'm trying to writehere!"
"I'm thesame way," Simon's Flower said and Madam Minnie and I nodded in agreement."I have to ask what serves as the inspiration for the stories youwrite?"
Amanuensisstood and stretched before answering, "I fell in love with the concept ofHarry Potter as a gay-friendly universe. It prompted me to take the sort offantasy erotica that I usually write into that universe."
"That'svery true about the Harry Potter universe," Madam Minnie answered."Everyone is very open to slash in comparison with other fandoms."
"Well I'dnot actually written male/male erotica much before—in fact, I'd justwritten my first male/male erotica just a week or two before I discovered HPfanfiction!" Amanuensis responded. "I suppose I was just ripe forexploring that side of my erotica interests. Elegant villains andnon-consensual erotica light my fire, so I can't help but put Lucius Malfoyinto a lot of my fics."
"Why areyou focused more on erotica rather than just dark fiction?" I asked.
"I can'tsay why I'm more focused on erotica than any other kind of writing, just thatthe smutty bits have always seemed to be the parts that I like to write best,and non-consensual smutty bits at that," she paused. "Vanilla kind ofleaves me yawning. However, writing male/male fiction has proved to be the sortof vanilla that does work for me."
"Why?"Simon's Flower asked. We were all enthralled by her explanation and wanted toknow more.
"It's gotto do with my too deeply ingrained perceptions that 'nice girls don't havecasual sex,' and if I read about a man and a woman in a consensual sex scene Ireact as if the woman is stupid for being taken advantage of that way, puttingherself at risk for pregnancy, etc." She smiled and continued. "Butif it's two men, I don't have that reaction; for two men it's all right, andterribly sweet. It should be all right for two women by that logic, except Ijust find consensual female/female sex dull to read about. I still prefer myfemale/female erotica to be non consensual. Go figure!"
We all laughedand I shook my head when Madam Minnie picked up a potion vial and rolled it inher palm. "What character," Madam Minnie asked as she ran her thumbover the cork on the bottle. "In the Harry Potter books would you want tobe and why?"
"Is thisa 'who would I WANT to be?' question? Or whom am I most like?" Amanuensisgrinned. "I think I'm a lot like bookworm Hermione, but if you were to askme who I'd most like in that world, I'm likely to pick someone who's going tolive through the action without too much torment!" She paused."Oddly, I find myself wanting to pick Scrimegeour."
"Why?"Madam Minnie asked. "Not that there's anything wrong with that but I'mcurious to know why."
"It's atough situation he's in," Amanuensis answered. "He's doing what hecan to put down the evil faction, and it's from a position not likely to be onthe front lines—and you'd have the satisfaction that you were doingsomething."
"Tocontinue this line of questioning," Simon's Flower waggled her eyebrows."If you were trapped in a room and had to pick one of the women or menfrom Harry Potter to be naughty with—who would you chose and what colorsocks would you wear?"
Amanuensislaughed and gave us a wicked grin, "I'd pick Lucius but ONLY if he thought'being trapped in a room' was his idea," she waggled her eyebrows."And I'd probably be wearing prim white socks, all the better to lookinnocent for the molesting."
The four of usgiggled and I had to ask, "Do you know what the airspeed velocity of aswallow is?"
"Myswallow is scoffing at me for not knowing the answer," Amanuensisretorted. "I hate when he does that."
I turned tofind Madam Minnie pressing her ear against a door towards the back of the room.I rolled my eyes and nudged Simon's Flower.
"Whatadvice if any would you give to other writers?" Simon's Flower asked.
"Writewhat you like, not what you think others want you to write," Amanuensisanswered with a wry grin. "Bit of a cliché, yes? But it's said so much becauseit's true. If your stuff is too controversial to attract a mainstream audience,you will find an audience who loves you specifically because you're notmainstream, and the intensity of their fondness for you will outweigh anyregrets that you might have had."
She sat backdown and smoothed her slacks, "Also if you can get away with it, writeonly when it's fun. Do not write when you don't want to write. Write when anidea seizes you, drags you by the fingers over to the keyboard, and will notlet go until it's written. (AKA 'The Frenzy') When you look at the keyboardwith hate, it's not time to write," she paused for a breath. "Mind,you still may produce good work when you're fuming at the keyboard, but if youdon't have to—if it doesn't your paycheck or your editors wrath or thedefriending of a hundred upset livejournal users does not depend on you, writeonly when you love writing."
"Wellsaid!" I exclaimed and glanced at my watch. "This has been great butwe do have to get going before dark…"
Madam Minniegave Simon's Flower puppy dog eyes and she sighed heavily, "Amanuensis canMadam Minnie get a peek at Professor Snape's bedroom."
Amanuensispointed to the door Madam Minnie was standing by, "Go in if youdare."
Madam Minnieopened the door and hissed, "Oh…my…" She turned to face us. "Thetwo of you go on—I'll be along later."
With that thedoor to Snape's bedroom closed with a loud bang and I giggled as Amanuensiswalked us out of the dungeons.
"Send herhome sometime," I grinned. "It was truly a pleasure interviewingyou."
Amanuensisgrinned, "I'll make sure they don't hurt her….much."